Sunday, 29 September 2013
'Live' Theatre on a Shoestring: National Theatre's 'Othello' at Cheshire Oaks
On Thursday evening I went with a couple of colleagues and our A Level English Literature group of 9 to see the production of of 'Othello' which was playing at the NationalTheatre in London, but also being broadcast live in cinemas around the country and abroad. We gathered at the local Vue cinema, where the usual cinema-going audience seemed to have disappeared to be replaced by a rather older, more sedate group of people. Few sales of buckets of popcorn or gallons of coke, though Ben and Jerry's did well. Our group reduced the average age of the audience significantly. (Well maybe not me!). The event was hugely popular - they sold two full screens, it seems, and we had to rush to find a seat when doors opened.
I have to admit my expectations were not high: televised theatre productions I'd seen in the past had often been disappointing - static camera pointed at the stage mostly. But this was a fantastic experience as they have improved the way they film the productions so that you can see the actors up close in some scenes but then aerial shots allowed a view of the full set. And presumably this was done in a way which did not distract the live audience. We could hear the reaction at the National and at times the cinema audience responded in a slightly different way, laughing, perhaps, because we could see a character's facial expression in more detail. One of our student's boyfriend, who is at drama school in London, was in the audience there and she felt her experience was as good as his as he was in the cheap seats, far from the stage. It didn't feel like film and the only time the illusion was shattered was when it came to the end and the audience in London reacted with applause. Some of us did too even though there was no one but the Vue ice-cream sellers there to receive it.
And the production of 'Othello' itself was excellent. It was set in a modern day army garrison with one scene showing a drunken brawl between the soldiers. I liked Rory Kinnear as Iago, sounding a bit like Phil from East Enders, in contrast to posh Cassio, who was a kind of Prince Harry figure getting into trouble by drinking with his men. The scene where Othello (Adrian Lester) overhears Cassio talking of the hankerchief is set in a toilet: he hides in a cubicle. All of this worked well and showed how the play remains relevant today. Adrian Lester was a strong Othello though I feel his descent from self-control and love for Desdemona to totally irrational behaviour and murder just happens too fast. But that's the play I suppose.
I've never seen the play before, but I had read it and taught extracts. So I knew what was coming and remained dry-eyed at Desdemona's demise. Behind us someone was sobbing: one of the grey-haired theatre buffs we'd seen queuing up, I assumed.
No - it was one of our students. You see they've only just started studying the play and they didn't know what would happen. And this 17 year old girl was deeply shocked by the way Othello treated Desdemona, from the first casual slap to the bedroom scene when he murders her despite her desperate pleas. She was still crying as we left the cinema; others in the group admitted they'd also been close to tears. Although sorry to see her so upset, in some ways I was pleased that she's been moved so much. She'd responded to the play as Shakespeare had wanted his audience to respond the first time it was shown. She'll remember this, probably the first live Shakespeare she has seen, for a long time.
All this for £10 a head. Thank you, National Theatre. I want to see their production of 'War Horse'. It's coming to The Lowry in Salford at Christmas. Tried booking tickets last week - husband Christmas present I thought. £50 a head. Too much. So I am now waiting to book tickets for the 'live' cinema performance on 27th February.